Before the coronavirus, Abraham Gonzales had worked as a dishwasher at the same restaurant in San Francisco for four years. Before that, he’d been at another restaurant doing the same job. He’s been in the United States for nearly a decade, and despite being an undocumented immigrant, he says he’s always paid his taxes on time, using an Individual Tax Identification Number.
But ever since March, when coronavirus stay-at-home orders shuttered restaurants across the state, he’s been out of work, and he hasn’t qualified for unemployment or for federal stimulus money because of his status.
“I just wanted to emphasize the feeling of frustration at being excluded from federal relief, because a lot of immigrants pay taxes, but nevertheless we were excluded in this situation,” he said.
His wife and daughter are both American citizens, but because they file taxes with him, they also don’t qualify for any federal relief.
“I feel more frustrated that my wife, who’s a citizen and supposedly should have that right was also excluded,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales is just one of around 3 million undocumented immigrants living in California, the majority of whom are employed in industries that have been heavily impacted by the coronavirus. According to the California Budget and Policy Center, about 10% to 30% of essential workers are undocumented immigrants.
“It’s very clear that people who are undocumented are over-represented in many of the industries that are hardest hit by COVID-19,” Sasha Feldstein, Economic Justice Policy Manager at the Policy Center said. "It includes restaurant workers, home health workers, and other critical industries that are really on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic."
For Maribel Cruz, who lives in Long Beach with her family, she is a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient and did receive stimulus money, but her parents are undocumented and did not. She said her stimulus check went to help them cover rent, as both of them are currently out of work.
“My dad, he works at a factory where they make shirts for different retailers, and my mom cleans houses,” Cruz said. “My dad hasn’t been working for the last three weeks, my mom used to work four days a week and now she only works two days, their income has drastically dropped.”
Cruz herself is still working, but much of her income is going to covering her parents and other siblings.
“There’s six of us here in shelter in place, and you feel the anxiety,” Cruz said.
She added that her parents not having health insurance is an issue that’s also been exacerbated by the pandemic, as now they’re more concerned about getting sick and not being able to pay hospital fees.
The California Immigrant Policy Center will be holding a day of action on May 11 to ask legislators to consider policies that would include undocumented immigrants in coronavirus relief efforts — things like strengthening safety protocols for domestic workers and allowing elderly undocumented immigrants to be eligible for Medi-Cal are items advocates believe could help.
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